"Storefront Church" is the Last in John Patrick's Trilogy on Church and State

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Monique Carboni
John Patrick Shanley, author of 'Storefront Church'

Along with winning a Tony and a Pulitzer for his play, "Doubt," and an Oscar for the screenplay of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley has another honor that means a lot to him -- a street named after him in the Bronx, where he grew up.

"As stuff like that goes, it was pretty cool," he said.

Adolfo Carrión, the Bronx borough president, officiated at the ceremony for the naming of the street.

"He's very charming and charismatic with that very grand title and a ministerial thing going on," Shanley said. "It set my mind going about the confluence of church and state that fell very much in line with other things I was thinking about."

Shanley has a trilogy of plays about that subject: "Doubt," about a nun who suspects a priest of sexually abusing a student, later made into a movie with Meryl Streep that Shanley directed; "Defiance," about a Marine officer and a chaplain; and "Storefront Church," about faith, politics, and the mortgage crisis, currently at the SF Playhouse. Characters in "Storefront Church," set shortly before Christmas, include a Bronx borough president, who is trying to keep his mother's best friend from losing her house, a loan officer who's had a disfiguring accident, and a preacher who can no longer preach since losing his church to Katrina, but has set up a new one in a former Laundromat.

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Pastor Chester Kimmich (Carl Lumbly, left) with Borough President Donaldo Calderon (Gabriel Marin)

Those little churches that Shanley sees all over New York were a genesis for the play.

"They have these very individual name like the Church of the Golden Tabernacle or the Three Pyramids," he said. "The arbitrary and frontier nature of it drew me in."

In "Storefront Church," the preacher, Chester Kimmich (played by the wildly talented Carl Lumbly) talks about a hole in front of him. Shanley says he knows that feeling.

"I was going along and operating very well in society, but at a certain point I noticed I was starving to death spiritually, and there was nothing in my bag of tricks that could speak to that," Shanley said. "My very masculine impulse was to do something, but that was getting in the way, and I had to stop functioning for a while. Then gradually the reservoirs fill again. At some point just doing stuff you realize you have become an automaton and your interior has become barren. I think most people go through that if they live long enough."

This feeling makes Shanley identify with Victor Hugo's hunchback of Notre Dame. The book makes an appearance in the play.

"Anyone who sees the movie or reads the book and doesn't at some point identify with the hunchback is just from another planet than mine," Shanley said.

Watch the trailer for "Storefront Church."

"Storefront Church" is at the SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, through Jan. 11. Tickets are $30-$100. For more information call (415) 677-9596. www.sfplayhouse.org.

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